How to Get Child to Do Bloodwork? He Threw Tantrum and REFUSED!! Had to Leave!

Updated on July 10, 2017
B.C. asks from Hialeah, FL
17 answers

Hello everyone! I need some advice with my son. We had an appt. for bloodwork today for my 2 kids. My daughter ( 9 yo) did it without a problem. My son on the other hand (12 yo) cried, screamed, and flat out refused to draw blood. He was so tense and out of control that the staff refused to do it as well, because they were afraid they would hurt him. I can't physically hold him down, so I actually took my husband with me, which he even had to take the day off of work for. This was the only way we have been able to do it in the past (with my husband physically restraining him). But this time not even that worked! I was extremely upset to say the least with him. Grounded him when we got home and took everything away!! While we were there, we absolutely tried everything. I tried to make him calm, I Told him he could do this and to find his bravery inside. I told him I know you have a big fear of needles, but you are bigger than your fears!! ON and on and on!!! Until I lost and just threatened to take everything away! Nothing worked!! His younger sister even went without him and told him how it barely hurt at all! and even with that all he would do was scream! I don't know what to do anymore with this situation!! My husband cannot take off another day of work as it is, nor should any one even be restraining him anymore at this point at 12 years old!! It's ridiculous!! So what do you advice at this point! The way I approached it was by telling him that I would not force him and hold him down anymore to try to do this, that it was up to him to decide and that until he did that he would have everything taken away, computer, phone, TV etc. He is basically laying in his room starting at the wall as we speak! I told him him when he decided he was going to be brave enough to go and do this that he would get everything back. Don't know if I am handling this the right way. Obviously he has a VERY big fear of needles that he cannot overcome, but he needs to be able to do this! Any advice please on what I can do differently or I am handling it correct!!

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answers from Wausau on

This reminded me of the time I was 14 or so and ran out of a clinic because I really did not want my vaccination boosters for high school. I can't remember what exactly it was anymore, but my mom got me back in there with a really good bribe.

Try super positive reinforcement with a reward instead of punishments. Punishments never work with a phobia.

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answers from Portland on

Sorry, you are not handling this well. Punishment for not doing something that terrifies him isn't going to improve anything.

Listen, I had a kid who was terrified of shots. At one point, on the way into the doctor's office, he was holding onto every single stationary object he could find (parking meters, bike racks) and I'd have to peel him off and drag him with us. Once we were in the doctor's office, he crawled under a low bench which had about 6" clearance. Fortunately, the staff were amused and understanding. We did have to hold him down that time and I know my husband and I were both ready for a stiff drink when we got done.

So, we decided that everyone does, indeed, have a price, and the next time, we took him to a toy store before the visit. He found something he liked and we told him that if he could do his shots without fuss, we could come back after the appointment and get the toy for him.

Worked like a charm. Before you think "I can't go down that road, that's a bribe", consider what happened: he got to experience the shot *without* all the drama.

"Mom, it wasn't that bad."
Bingo! Kiddo was able to come to a realization we hadn't been able to explain or force him into. One more time of picking a toy and then we began streamlining it: $5 for each shot visit.

You know, now he asks the doctor "can I get my shots done first?", because he's aware of his anxiety about it and is proactive in asking for what he needs. We are going to have to do blood draws this year and I'll be offering $10. I know he's going to be worried and scared about it, so I'm prepared to sweeten the deal. Eventually, I know, he will have relaxed enough to know that this isn't terrible, just momentary discomfort.

So, long story here, but that's my advice. Find a way for him to have some buy-in. He needs to experience doing this without the violence of the struggle and anger from adults. I'm sure he feels very scared about it. Don't compare his response with his sister's....each kid is different. My sister went nuts about shots; I just generally sat still for them. You can't expect your kids to be identical, and shaming a kid never got them to comply with a willing heart. Everyone has a price. Figure out something your son wants which is reasonable, and go with that. He'll feel like he's working toward a goal, it's more of an accomplishment and you change the dynamic.:)

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answers from Honolulu on

I think there's a big difference between an extreme fear of a medical procedure and just being a brat. I've seen kids in doctors' waiting rooms that weren't afraid of anything, they just refused to sit down and deliberately broke toys. I've seen other kids who were terrified and crying. The punishment you gave your son would have been appropriate if he had knocked over some blocks that another little kid was building, or if he had unplugged the tv or ripped up magazines or mocked other patients who were in the waiting area. The punishment is not appropriate for a true fear.

A 12 year old should be able to control his behavior at the doctor's office (speaking politely, sitting quietly), but he should not be forced to control a real fear of needles. It sounds like your son's screaming and crying was just at the point of thinking about that needle going in his arm. It sounds like he behaved otherwise.

Unless your son has a serious medical condition, blood work or immunizations will not be the norm. If your son has a condition that will require many blood tests, then the doctor should be informed of his extreme fear and he could possibly be sedated for blood work in the future.

My dd once had to have a tube placed up her nose and down her throat into her esophagus for 24 hours. It was taped to her cheek and very very annoying and irritating and painful. She was terrified at the thought of it staying in there for 24 hours including while she tried to sleep. I realized that this was not an everyday occurrence, this was something unusual. This was to rule something out. So I took her to the video game store and bought her a game. I told her she didn't have to worry about sleep, she could play all night if she wanted. Her test was not something she was going to have to have done routinely, so I wanted to make it as pleasant as possible under the circumstances.

So please tell your son you're sorry that he's so afraid, that he shouldn't be punished for a fear, and that you'll work something out. Offer to take him for his favorite treat, or buy him something fun. I don't support bribes for doing chores or behaving in public or doing the normal things we expect children to do, but I do believe in making an extremely difficult thing a little less horrid when we parents can.

It's really not ridiculous. Haven't you ever seen or heard about someone who is afraid to fly on a plane, or who can't walk into a crowded situation? A phobia is really hard to deal with. It makes no sense, not even to the person who experiences it, but the physical sensations are real. A person who's afraid of flying can tell you all about how safe it can be, how the pilots are well trained, how airplanes are built for safety, but when they think about going down that jetway, and when they imagine taking off, the physical panic and nausea and chills and shaking are very very real.

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answers from Portland on

My son once had to have an object removed from his ear (he was preschool age) and that was ... terrifying for him. It didn't help than an intern with little to no experience with kids was trying to perform the procedure. We actually ended up leaving. If this ever happens to anyone, take your kid home and let him/her submerge their head in bathtub - object floated out easily enough. Far less traumatic ....

I like Nervy's advice. I have a kid with anxiety at times, and positive reinforcement (I have broken down and bought a beanie boo to get the child to try camp) works like a charm. Now, we don't need a bribe. Just positive encouragement - yay! you did it. Proud of you (and then less as time goes on).

Punishing .... I get being frustrated with your child, but is just contributing to it all being such a negative experience.

Is there a clinic that focuses on kids? We have one that does. They usually are more practiced at dealing with kids who have fears.

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answers from Washington DC on

We told our children that medical tests or shots were not negotiable. End of subject.
My mother is a nurse. When children acted like that, she told the parents to get out. Children will often behave for non-family members -- especially no-nonsense nurses. She never cajoled or pleaded. She would walk in and tell the the kid to stick his arm out and let the phlebotomist do her job. Not once did a kid not do as she said.
I'd haul that child back in there on Monday morning and tell the child that he will get his blood test. He will not pitch a fit. He is 12 and it's high time he sucked it up. I'd tell the phlebotomist that you are stepping out so he can do his job. Then, I'd walk out.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

Here's the thing. Sometimes we have to bite the bullet and force things. By the way, he has a PHOBIA, taking away things is cruel and has nothing to do with what happened.

His doc should have given him a low dose of Valium. You and your husband need to get hold of this. And figure out how to deal with this because when he's an adult and has to have blood drawn this will be a very embarrassing behavior.

When my daughter was younger she accidentally ingested Nitro pills. It was completely an accident as they were not in the correct container and she thought they were artificial sweetener pellet things.

She was freaking out when they needed to pump her stomach. Life or death, life is the choice. They were worried they'd hurt her if they didn't get her knocked out first. I told them that together we were bigger than her and we could flat out hold her down if they needed to do this.

So we all held her down while two nurses strapped her to a board that immobilized her. Neck, head, shoulders, arms, hands, waist, thigh, shin, and feet straps held her completely still.

They got a shot in her to help her calm down but they started the tube going into her stomach at the same time. She lived of course but I learned a parent sometimes has to just be the person to do the job.

This is hard on parents. We don't want to see our kids go through this. But you also have the responsibility to get the job done. You are the adult. Obviously this blood work wasn't very important or they'd have got it done. Your child might even need to do therapy where they use flooding to get him over this irrational fear. It's a proven technique. Sometimes it's slow but it gets most everyone over their fear.

A friend was terrified of cats. Even little bitty new born kittens. She would work herself up to a fit if she even had to go to someone's house that had cats, even if those cats were in a room behind a shut door. She was irrationally afraid of cats.

I told her she could get over it if she wanted to. To her the fear was completely logical. She had learned a way to think and it wasn't wrong. The rest of the world knew her fear was based on things that weren't true.

She ended up going to therapy and that therapist used flooding technique. It's also called prolonged exposure and even immersion therapy, to some extents.

What the therapist does is try to dig deep and find out where this phobia started. How the irrational thoughts started. Then they start introducing the feared thing in the protected environment of the session. Such as a photo, a toy that is that thing, a stuffed animal of that thing, etc.each week they'll go over each item again and if it's okay to do so they'll introduce another item each week until finally the real thing is there.

At that point the therapist brought in a baby kitten in a cat carrier. This part took a couple of sessions before my friend would stop crying and accept the kitten in the room. It wasn't even a focus of the therapy session, it was JUST IN THE ROOM, over aside, not even in her line of sight.

Eventually the kitten in the carrier came onto the desk, then nearer and nearer until the therapist was able to take it out of the cage and hold it while talking to my friend. She was encouraged to touch it at one point and then hold it. This took a while, it was NOT a quick fix.

She was still uncomfortable around cats after therapy, like...she wouldn't have one as a pet, but she was never completely immobilized when she even thought there might be a cat somewhere.

Getting help with a fear of needles or blood work or anything like this is an easy thing to do. Exposing them to the thing they fear and helping them to see it as a normal thing and not a terrorizing thing is good for them.


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answers from Anchorage on

I don't have any good advise for you but wanted to tell you that people do outgrow this fear. My sister was terrified of needles as a child. I remember sitting in the doctors office and watching 5 people hold her down so she could get a shot. She would freak out. Fast forward 30 years and she is an adult now who developed gestational diabetes. It didn't go away after she had her baby, and she has now been a diabetic for 10 years. She gives herself insulin shots all the time. This is the same person who, as a child, had to be held down by 5 grown adults to get a shot. She outgrow her fear of needles and I hope your son does also.

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answers from Anchorage on

He is 12, way too old to be throwing tantrums so the grounding is justified for sure. I would consider maybe making him an appointment with a therapist to see if they can help you find ways to help him overcome this fear, but he still needs to be able to control himself, no excuse for tantrums passed the age of 3.

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answers from Miami on

ETA to Nervy Girl: Loved your response! I drew a picture of a present gift-wrapped for my other son when he had to have a nasal-endoscopy. I held on to that picture the whole time we were at the doctor's office and kept showing it to him. I reminded him that Toys R Us was one mile down the road. And that we'd also get ice cream. (I wanted the ice cream.) It went very well... And I would have done that for my other son, but all the shots and stitches were for injuries, and no amount of bribes helped there...

I understand how you feel about trying to get him to find his courage. I also understand that sometimes parents have to make kids do what they don't want to do, and I have done that. I've had friends whose kids had terrible attitudes about certain things that I would NEVER as a parent have put up with at the doctor's office. For example, one woman's son poured his urine sample in the floor when a female doctor walked in the room. He demanded a male doctor. This kid was about 9 years old. He would have been grounded for the entire summer if that had been my kid. His mother thought it was funny. I just looked at her and said flat out that she was allowing her son to grow up to hate women. I was really disgusted, and I admit that I never let my kids play with her son again after that.

Well, I digress with that story. You can tell that I'm pretty tough about expectations with my kids. That being said, I had one kid who had a really hard time with shots, needles, stitches, etc. In the ER after injuring his leg, he had to have stitches and a tetanus shot, and that required an attending who was the size of a tank hold him down while he was screaming his head off. He was in 2nd grade. Not pretty. At the point that my family had to have a series of shots for living overseas before he went to 5th grade, we all were in one room with a group of nurses (male and female). I had explained this to both of my children in advance. He was starting the usual upset behavior when I said to him in front of everyone "You can scream your head off all you want. They don't care. They'll still give you the shots. This is what we are here to do. However, it will hurt you more because your arm won't be relaxed, and your arm will hurt you for a couple of days. What's more important? Screaming, or your arm feeling better? Either way, you're getting the shots. Decide." We all stared at him. He surprised me by asking if I would hold him. And I did. I whispered "Relax, relax" and it really helped him. From then on, I did that until he got much older and didn't need it anymore. Thankfully, understanding "clicked in".

As far as bloodwork is concerned, that is different in my view. I didn't make him have bloodwork done unless he was getting a surgical procedure. And I always asked for a butterfly needle. (My goodness, I ask for a butterfly needle for me too!!!) For bloodwork, I was never tough on him. I believe it's okay for them to be older for that. Shots will end, for the most part, except for the yearly flu shot. Catch the flu once, and most people are willing to stick their arms out the next year in order to not have a miserable repeat... But as adults, we do have to get bloodwork done, and I would rather him not have a phobia about it.

My son is grown now and is fine with needles. I have told him how he acted when he was young, and it kind of embarrasses him. One day he'll find out what he has to do with his own child in this regard...

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answers from Philadelphia on

It sounds like this is out of his a fight or flight reaction. I would not punish him. He does however need to overcome this fear. You do this by desensitizing him to it. Have him watch YouTube videos of people getting their blood drawn. Ask him how he thinks he can overcome this. Obviously this is not fun for him either.

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answers from Santa Fe on

Instead of punishment I would 1. talk to him about his fear and how he feels and 2. use positive reinforcement. The next time he wants something really bad tell him he can have it after he does the bloodwork. After he does it then get him the thing he wanted. I know...that is bribery but if it was something you were going to end up getting anyway then why not. When you talk to him tell him what works for some people is you just keep your eyes closed. If he cannot see the needle it will seem less scary. It really doesn't hurt all that much and it is over quickly. Talk to him about how he obviously is scared of needles and ask him why he thinks he gets so scared. Talk to him about how it really isn't all that bad and he is being irrational...having to do medical procedures are something everyone HAS to do. He just has to close his eyes, be brave, and power through it.

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answers from Norfolk on

Sorry - I just can't relate.
It's not something our son ever did and if I'd ever done anything like that in a doctors office my Mom would have slapped me across my face.
Obviously you can't do that but I feel for you.
Maybe a child psychologist could be of some help.

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answers from Houston on

I am glad that you talked with him and are working on this. My son has a fear of needles as well. Our family was exposed to Hep at a restaurant. The restaurant chain was paying for everyone who had eaten there free shots. We fit the time frame. My son went crazy at the time for the shot. It was a big long needle but he got hysterical as well. I sat on the floor and we discussed his fears and concerns. Took about an hour but he got the darn shot.

Hes 24 and still HATES needles but does ok. He just doesn't look and does a few breathing techniques.

Don't punish the kid. The fear is real to him.

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answers from Boston on

If it's a tantrum, then he needs to grow up. At 12, and even at 9, parents don't need to be in the room for everything. I'd have left him in the office with the professionals. Kids do stuff in front of parents that they never do in front of teachers, as evidenced by all the posts we see of "he's great in school, and hell on wheels at home."

If it's a true phobia, then he needs counseling and desensitization. Taking away privileges is a mistake. You need to respond with compassion and calm.

So you have to know what is really going on here. If you can't figure it out in a conversation (office visit) with the doctor (just a talk in the office, nothing in the exam room), then see a counselor.

You've turned it into a battle of wills if you're taking everything away and still getting nowhere. Making both parents take the day off work to deal with this is ridiculous. But if your husband can't take a day off for real emergencies or to, say, talk to a counselor, that's a huge problem. But that's an argument for another day.

I'm not sure what's wrong with him (or your daughter) that he (or she) needs blood work but that's not routine in physicals. So something is going on and it's not negotiable. The only question remains is how to deal with what the obstacle is. If it's a true anxiety attack or phobia, then lecturing/restricting can raise the anxiety level. If he's just being a huge pain and a drama king, and if there is no medical necessity, then he doesn't get to do ANYTHING that's normally a privilege of a 12 year old - he's not mature enough or trustworthy enough to do the right thing. If this is not a medical emergency or necessity (and next month would be time enough), then I'd totally stop talking about it with him, including discussions about bravery, and I'd simply wait for him to ask for something (going downtown alone with friends, watching a PG-13 movie, wanting computer time, riding in the front seat while his sister rides in the back, joining the sports team that requires a physical, going to school which requires a physical and immunizations....) and just say, "Sorry, not at this time." Nothing more. Calm down. Be firm. Say much less. When he sees that he cannot control the entire drama or bait you, he'll stop. You're going to need this technique totally perfected to get through adolescence.

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answers from Miami on

To answer some of your questions........he has always been this terrified of getting bloodwork done! And needles in general, so it goes the same way for shots! But it has never been this bad that we had to leave without getting it done! After seeing all of your responses, I sat down and had a heart to heart talk with him yesterday. I did take away his punishment and apologized for losing it with him. We talked about how important this is and how it is my job to make sure he is healthy and that everything is okay. TO answer as to why he us having this son, is underweight and under height for his age so endo wanted to run all of these tests along with bone xray. As for my daugther she has had a few episodes where I believe her blood sugar is dropping when she goes a period of time without eating or drinking anything. So blood work was also definitely very important for her! I also just needed to know in general that they're blood sugar is fine in both. I am a type 1 diabetic so that puts them at a higher risk. Since I am diabetic, I know the signs and I recognize what is happening with my daughter.
But back to my son, I had him go through some practice exercises using my needles and just holding them close to him. AT first he couldn't even stand having it close it to him and eventually with breathing exercises and having him tell me from 1 to 10 how much anxiety he was feeling, he was able to finally after 20 minutes or so have the needle closer to his arm and imagine having the procedure. I DON'T THINK HE IS JUST THROWING A TANTRUM AND MISBEHAVING, HE TRULY HAS A PHOBIA! so I told him we would get through this together. WE have a few strategies in place now and I believe and hope it will go better. We have a new appt for tomorrow. Fingers crossed! He also wrote me an apology letter that really touched my heart where he expressed how sorry he was to make me sad and upset and that he knows how important this is to me and that he will face his fear and try again! Thanks all for your advice.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Did he throw a tantrum (per your title) or was he honestly terrified? There is a big difference, and the answer changes my response.

I saw your update above mine in the responses. Clearly this is a phobia, not just a tantrum. I see you've started to try to help him get through it, and that is really good. If he's still not able to go through with it tomorrow, then talk to his doctor. Since the tests are necessary, he may be able to prescribe something that will help your son stay calm that does not interfere with the test results. You will also want to keep working with him to desensitize him/help give him strategies for dealing with his fear over the long term since needles and healthcare are a necessary part of life. Don't wait until there is another acute incidence before getting him help.

Good luck



answers from New York on

I hate needles too. I was the kid that cried whenever my mom would drive down the doctor's street even if we weren't going to his office.

As an adult I still hate needles but understand they are required.

It sounds like your son need counseling to deal with his fear. I also loved Lady Bug's response and Wild Woman's.

I got over my fear by just sucking it up and facing my fear. This isn't easy for everyone to do so professional help may be required not punishments.

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